Pain is a subject to which all people can relate. There are many different types of pain, and people react to these pains in various ways. Pain is also caused from many different sources. It could be from grief, stress, or a significant event that occurs in one’s life. Pain is defined in the Dictionary as “mental or emotional suffering or torment.” The poetry of Robert Frost, James Langston Hughes, and Emily Dickinson all display different aspects of pain.
Robert Lee Frost was born on March 26, 1874 in San Francisco, California where his father worked as a newspaper editor. This may have been where Robert was first exposed to the aspect of writing. Robert’s first published poem was in a school newspaper at the age of 16 where he wrote a poem on the subject of Cortez in Mexico. Although he attended Dartmouth for seven weeks and spent two years at Harvard, he never finished a college education with a degree. After he had gotten married, he worked as a schoolteacher, and during this period is when he spent time writing the majority of his poetry. After his teaching career, he moved to England to pursue getting his works published since his poetry was not accepted for publishing in America. His first two books of poems, A Boy’s Will and North of Boston, were published in England and then later in America due to the overwhelming popularity of them in England (Greenberg ix-x).
Frost’s poem “Out, Out” tells a story of the tragic death of a boy due to a buzz saw. The title is an allusion to act five William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, where the main character, Macbeth, performs a soliloquy regarding the death of his wife: “Out, out, brief candle! / Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player / That struts and frets his hour upon the stage / And then is heard no more. It is a tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / Signifying nothing.” The allusion to Shakespeare in the title is appropriate to the subject matter because the soliloquy of Macbeth states that life is short, and inevitably will end. That is the message that Robert Frost is trying to convey in this poem.
There are two different aspects of pain that appear in “Out, Out.” The first one is the aspect of physical pain. This occurs when the buzz saw the boy is using, hits the boy’s hand and injures the hand severely. “As if to prove saws knew what supper meant, / Leaped out at the boy’s hand, / or seemed to leap — (Frost 522)” The boy then begins to feel the pain of what has just happened, the physical pain of his hand being severed by the buzz saw.
The next type of pain that can be seen here is the psychological pain, caused by stress. As a result of the boy’s injury, he begins to fall into pieces about the whole matter (clarify this somehow. “fall into pieces” sounds a little ambiguous as well as cliché) . The poem says that the boy “half in appeal, but as if to keep / the life from spilling. Then the boy saw all — (Frost 522).” These two lines of the poem depict that the boy is old enough to understand what is going on with what is happening. His hand is injured beyond what the doctors can repair, and there is a high possibility of death because of what has just happened. The word ‘Life’ in this poem represents the blood that flowing from his hand.
One can also see the apathy displayed by the rest of his family. Even though a member of the family has just died due to a tragic accident “Little–less–nothing!–and that ended it (Frost 522)” they show no pain of the loss of a family member. It is depicted in the last two lines of the poem, “No more to build on there. And they, since they / Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs (Frost 522).” This shows that they had no emotion to the event, and went on to what they were doing as if nothing had happened in the first place.
The second piece of poetry presented is one by James Langston Hughes. James Langston Hughes was born February 1, 1902 in Joplin Missouri. He spent his early life living with his grandmother in Illinois. Hughes began to write poems, and also some short stories, while he was in high school. Hughes mentions that the primary influences to his writing are Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Carl Sandburg, and Walt Whitman. His first book of poetry, entitled The Weary Blues, was published in 1926, while he was in college. Hughes graduated from Lincoln University three years following the publication of his first book of poetry. The year following his college graduated, Hughes won the Harmon gold medal for literature for the first novel that he wrote, Not Without Laughter.
James Langston Hughes poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” was the first poem of his that was published. This poem was also set to music later on. It is written from the perspective of a man that ties together African and African-American history. Hughes does this by naming different rivers that are in Africa and also those that are in the United States. This is where the wordplay of Langston Hughes can be seen. The type of pain that is displayed in this poem is not very obvious, but it is more implied than directly stated. Seeing that this poems speaks of African and African-American History, the idea of the oppression that these people groups have gone through is something that can be inferred from what the poem says. Both of these people groups have gone through major oppression because of slavery, inequality, and the like. (while it is not obvious I would recommend trying to find a few lines that can possibly show the pain)
The final poem presented here is a poem from Emily Dickinson. Emily Dickinson was born in the year 1830 in a family that was considered to be very wealthy for that time period. Her father ultimately led the family and was a religious man for the family. He read prayers and passages of scripture to all that lived in the household to maintain this. She attended the seminary for a year, but went home after that year due to a significant amount of unpleasant experiences.
After Emily left school, she isolated herself from all activities and responsibilities that were outside of the household, and kept to herself most of the time. She spent a significant amount of time reading books. Because of the morals that her father had, there were not many things for her to choose from, as her father thought that most books that were available at the time might shake up her thinking patterns. She then settled to read the Bible, classical myths, and also the works of William Shakespeare. Because of this, a great amount of the poems that she wrote had allusion to her readings contained in them. Although there is very little that people know of Emily Dickinson’s outside life, but after reading the poems that she has written, one can gain some access to the inside life in Emily Dickinson (Madden 1287).
Emily Dickinson wrote nearly two thousand different poems in her lifetime (Madden 1288). Only but a few of these poems were intentionally published by her. Although Emily made her brother and sister promise to destroy all of her works following her death, her sister, Lavinia, could not gain the strength to destroy her sister Emily’s poetry. Not too far following her death in 1886, nine volumes of her works that were revised in wording, punctuation, structure, and rhyme were published. Unedited versions that were true to the original manuscript of Emily Dickinson where not published until 1955 (Madden 1288).
Most of the poems of Emily Dickinson were her own personal laments that she did not intend for the public to ever see. “After A Great Pain, A Formal Feeling Comes” is an example of one of these extremely personal poems. During the time that this poem was written, Dickinson had just lost a very close friend. She was also beginning to dismiss the ideas of a career, starting a family, and making contact with anything or anyone that was outside of her own house. This whole poem directly deals with the pain of emotional loss that comes with the passing away of a person that is extremely close. Death was something that Dickinson never adjusted to, and it is displayed in this poem. She depicts how the feeling sits heavily and does not seem to go away very quickly “The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs–(Dickinson 1291)” (Lundin 95).
In the last two lines of the first stanza Dickinson says, “The stiff Heart questions what it He, that bore, / And Yesterday, or Centuries before? (Dickinson 1291)” Here she is reliving past pains and grief that have occurred in her life before the death of her friend. She also relives past painful moments in her life in the second stanza “The Feet, mechanical, go round (Dickinson 1291)” (Grabher 217).
In the last stanza, Dickinson focuses on the present pain that is in her life. “This is the Hour of Lead– (Dickinson 1291)” refers to the passing of Dickinson’s close friend. She then goes over the stages of how she moves on from these painful experiences: “As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow– / First–Chill–then Stupor–then the letting go– (Dickinson 1291)” The way that she ends this poems makes it appear as though she is trailing off into a land of thought to go dwell on what has just happened, to begin her process of recovery (Lundin 234).
As one can see, many different aspects of pain have been discussed. Robert Frost’s “Out, Out” discussed physical pain due to an injury, and also the pain of stress due to that injury. James Langston Hughes implied the racial oppression of Africans and African-Americans that had gone before him in “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.” Emily Dickinson goes deep into her personal life and displays emotional pain with “After A Great Pain, A Formal Feeling Comes” by reminiscing on past grief and dealing with a new grief due to the death of a friend. As one reads through and analyzes these poems, one can see the way that pain is displayed in the midst of them and how each separate type affects people in different ways.